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NZ/Aotearoa 1200 jobs threatened at Air New Zealand! For an all-up Congress to debate the way forward!

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Hard on the heels of Air NZ threats to outsource the jobs of over 600 engineers, it now proposes to outsource the jobs of 120 cleaners, and is looking at doing the same to over 400 administration and cabin crew – over 1200 in all. The Engineers union (EPMU) has totally failed to defend workers jobs, selling some jobs in the hope of keeping others. All along it has relied on appealing to the public to put pressure the government to stop the job losses on the grounds that Air NZ is the national carrier. This is a strategy doomed to failure. It will not stop future jobs losses. The 200 jobs saved now could go next year. The time has come for Air NZ workers to reject the unions ‘partnership’ with Air NZ management and the government and to build a rank and file strike committee across all the unions involved. But rather than walk off the job and leave the airline to lock them out and replace them, workers need to look at what workers in Latin America have done, and workers in the US are planning, workplace occupations and work to rule.

We need an all-up national Congress to debate the way forward!

Air NZ attacks its workforce

After 600 jobs were threatened by Air NZ management in October, in February the Engineers union EPMU came up with a deal to save 300 engineers jobs by sacrificing more than 200 jobs, shift conditions and wages. At that point it looked like a done deal so Air NZ management announced the redundancy of 120 cleaning staff. But then a handful of Christchurch Engineers refused to sign up. The wage cuts and loss of conditions were not acceptable. Air NZ’s response was to threaten to close the Christchurch workshop.

Within a day the workers voting ‘no’ had folded and the deal was done. 300 Engineers jobs would be saved because the frame maintenance would not be outsourced overseas. No sooner had this been confirmed, Air NZ announced a further body blow to workers. 470 administration and cabin crew are to be made redundant and some of their jobs outsourced to foreign workers.

Air NZ management’s approach is a typical capitalist response to the situation many airlines are in. They are driven in their role as agents of capital to restore profits for the owners. Worldwide airline industry profits have fallen over the last decade, as part of the general trend, (Marx described this as the ‘tendency for the rate of profit to fall’). Basically the airlines have to spend more on fuel and replacement aircraft (constant capital) while the airline workforces are cut through decreased staffing levels, casualisation (variable capital), yet the workers are the only source of new value!

The capitalist class takes their crisis to the workers. The airlines try to restore profits through cuts to the workers wages, conditions and through efficiency gains – to increase the rate of exploitation. Airlines have also sought alliances, amalgamations, and buy outs to gain efficiency through greater economies of scale (Marx – the concentration and centralisation of capital). Their struggle to restore profits, at the expense of workers, is the guts of the capitalist crisis. Maintaining, cleaning, stewarding and flying the aircraft are jobs that can be done by outsourcing to the cheapest labour.

Air NZ management hope to restore profits by making workers redundant and finding cheaper ways to maintain, service and operate their aircraft. These are attacks on all airline workers, but more than that the whole working class, as the defeats of airline workers in any country weaken the international labour movement. Typically, the response of the unions, in particular the EPMU that covers most of the Engineers, is to negotiate the loss of some jobs to save others. They appeal to patriotism by blaming foreign workers for taking local jobs. They demand that the government (especially when it is the majority shareholder) acts in the national interest to ‘save jobs’.

The EPMU response is a sell out!

The Engineers union (EPMU) response to the crisis has been get a consultant in to respond to Air NZ management’s proposal. Essentially the union has said: ‘we can restructure the workforce better than employers can. We can restore profitability and do it without as many jobs losses as Air NZ management proposed’. Like it has done on other occasions the EPMU is doing the job of management or employers in response to a crisis of profitability.

Should the working class be grateful that the EPMU and the Airline cooperated to save 300 jobs by selling another 200 jobs? Or that the remaining workers will have to work harder, longer, more unsocial hours for less pay? Loss of jobs or conditions is a loss, and a failure of the union to offer anything better. If jobs go or if conditions of overtime and regular work hours are lost, that is a sell-out by the EPMU. To protect some jobs at the loss of others (jobs and conditions) is trading the livelihoods of those workers.

So when some of the Christchurch engineers voted ‘no’ to the union/management deal to ‘save jobs’ they were told they were the ones selling out the 300 jobs! This is where divide and rule gets you. NZ workers pitted against Chinese workers, and Auckland workers pitted against Christchurch workers, instead of everyone being united against the boss!

And while the Engineers are infighting over the price of jobs sold, the other Air NZ workers, cleaners, cabin staff and other in the firing line, are left to fight alone. Why is this? Why does a union operate like it knows better than the boss how to run the company?

Why, because in the EPMU, the union is in a ‘partnership’ with the employers. In the view of Andrew Little, a view shared by the CTU top officials, there are ‘good’ capitalists (the ones they can work with) and ‘bad’ capitalists, (the ones where the unions can do a better “management” job). This is the usual practice of a union that is part of the union bureaucracy and functions as the labour lieutenants of the capitalists in the labour movement. It is a union that is locked into the capitalist system and fails to challenge the capitalists’ attacks on workers. But like a new paint job on a less fuel-efficient airplane, the EPMU leadership cannot hide from workers that rates of profit are falling. Capitalism demands from the working class ever increased efficiency and ever rising exploitation.

The need for rank and file control of unions

The treacherous leadership of the Labour Party and the EPMU has left workers with no choice but to organise independently of the established leadership. The real union saying: “An injury to one is an injury to all”, takes a class approach to the attacks on workers. Any cuts will do lasting damage to workers as a class – those jobs, and the conditions sold out will be lost forever. Jobs will not re-appear at Air NZ for the next generation of workers. When workers return to work in the coming months, and look around themselves, then they will see less workmates, and worse conditions.

To change this, workers need to be independent of the state. The response of the government to the Air NZ deal proves that the state belongs to the capitalists. This exposes the capitalist nature of the NZ State and the Labour Party. The NZ Government remains the majority shareholder of Air NZ, a hangover from the last time it was baled out by the government. But this was just to rescue Air NZ to prepare it for privatisation. At no time has the Labour Party leadership taken any action to protect workers jobs; instead they give their backing to the strategy of the EPMU to cut jobs and restore capitalist profits. The whole point of this massive job shedding and cost cutting is to get Air NZ ready to be snapped up by one of its much bigger rivals.

Overseas the one sure way that workers have protected themselves from the collapse of inefficient or unprofitable capitalist companies has been to occupy and run the workplaces themselves, sometimes demanding no compensation to the bankrupt capitalists.

In Argentina when factories and Hotels went bankrupt, workers took over and ran run the places as cooperatives. In Venezuela, whole industries like oil, aluminium, paper etc are now led by plants run jointly by workers and the state. But instead of fighting union by union, or plant by plant, these occupations combine the unions and draw in wide support from working class communities. The struggle over how these occupations can go from occupations to genuine socialist property is then up for grabs.

A similar strategy applied in NZ would see unions stepping outside the ERA provisions which put strict limits on strike action, to back one another up. Occupations of Air NZ workshops would quickly bring the airline to a halt. The wider working class can offer support to Air NZ workers. Picket lines of hundreds or thousands of unionists in Auckland and Christchurch, activists from other unions (NDU, SFWU, Unite etc) and unorganised workers could defend the engineering sites for the benefit of the whole working class.

If all airline workers came out together they could return to work on their terms. They could prove that they could keep the airline running efficiently and safely. The rising cost of jet fuel could be solved by doing deals with Venezuelan workers who operate its oil industry, or with China which is currently doing huge bilateral deals for oil, gas, soy beans etc with the Latin American governments of Lula in Brazil, Chavez in Venezuela and soon, Evo Morales in Bolivia.

The whole thrust of workers control is to replace the capitalist management and its union ‘partners’ with industry that is democratically planned to meet social needs rather that private profit.

All-up Congress of rank and file unionists to defend jobs and conditions!  

  • Because the EPMUs deal signals only the start and not the end of job selling, a strike committee made up of rank and file representatives of all Air NZ workers is urgently needed. But this fight cannot be isolated to the airlines. 
  • Build links with other workers whose jobs are also in danger like at Fonterra. Prepare working class support for self-defence pickets.  
  • What is needed is an all-up congress of rank and file unionists to debate the way forward.  
  • Prepare to occupy the engineering workshops and hangars!  
  • For working class communities to build mass pickets to defend the occupations!
  •  Put aircraft maintenance, service and operation under workers control, without compensation to the private shareholders of Air New Zealand!


From Class Struggle 65 Feb/March 2006
                                                                                                                                                                              

600 Air New Zealand jobs under attack

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The Alliance came out with some radical ideas about worker occupations and workers control in response to the threat of job losses at Air NZ. CWG acknowledged these good ideas and took them further

In an article on Aotearoa Indymedia on 27 October titled “Creative destruction” by Air New Zealand’ Len Richards of the Alliance wrote:

“The announcement by Air New Zealand of the sacking of a highly skilled workforce is a massive disinvestment in New Zealand. If the government will not act, the workers can. They should take a leaf out of the Argentinean workers’ book and occupy the maintenance hangers to keep them going.

Six hundred workers are to be thrown onto the economic scrapheap by Air New Zealand. The company, which is 82 per cent government-owned, has decided to transfer the heavy maintenance of its aircraft off-shore to Europe and Asia. This is expected to save $100 million over the next five years (ie $20 million a year on average). This is a company that made $250 million profit this year and expects to make $100 million next year. The redundancy costs will be $13 million.

Air New Zealand claims it cannot find enough work for all its maintenance engineers. Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Cullen, washed his hands of the announcement, saying that it is “company business”. This is the government welcomed by the Council of Trade Unions as having a “commitment to an investment approach to economic and social development”. The announcement by Air New Zealand of the sacking of a highly skilled workforce is a massive disinvestment in New Zealand. It is reminiscent of the closure of the railway workshops in the early 1990s which destroyed a similarly skilled workforce and dismantled another significant section of this country’s industrial infrastructure. The CTU must demand that the government intervenes to prevent this act of economic vandalism. . .

. . .The newly elected Labour-led coalition government should act urgently and “creatively”. It must step in to take direct control of Air New Zealand. These jobs can be saved if the government has the will to do so. If the government will not act, the workers can. They should take a leaf out of the Argentinean workers’ book and occupy the maintenance hangers to keep them going.

The loss of these engineering jobs is completely unnecessary. It is not about the engineering operation losing money. It is all about return on capital. It is about extracting more profit to ready Air New Zealand for another round of privatisation. The company chairman John Palmer is blatantly promoting a sell-down of the government’s shares. The government would do better to take-over the whole company. It could be run as a peoples’ co-operative under the control of the workers who, after all, know better than anyone how to operate the enterprise most efficiently.”

CWG replies:

“Good point about the management preparing Air NZ for re-privatisation. And the NZ economy as ‘third world’ being driven down the drain by profit. This shows a grasp of the seriousness of NZ’s decline in the world and the need for a strong socialist stand to lead the way forward. Air NZs predicament is classic and opens the way for the nationalising of assets and trading with other third world countries as the only way to combat monopoly capitalism.

The demand right now should be to take up the workers criticisms of failed management and put the company under workers control. Opening the books to the EPMU heads won’t prove anything other than cost cutting is necessary to return a profit. Profit in a state owned company should be rejected as the bottom line. The bottom line should be the public interest in a national asset build out of the labour of generations of kiwi workers.

So the demand should be to put the company under workers control and management to protect the accumulated wealth of workers as well the ‘public interest’. Why should the 600 workers under threat of sacking put up with a state owned corp run by private sector cost cutters who destroy the skill base of the working class while they strut around in Zambezi gear?

The rising costs of fuel and airports are inevitable while we are subjected to monopoly capital. Nationalisation under workers control (with no compensation especially after all those massive state subsidies!) is the answer. The airports should all be renationalised. The big oil company assets in NZ should be nationalised and oil sourced from Venezuela in a swap for food and agricultural technology.

While it’s necessary to demand that Cullen puts up a fight to keep these jobs, we know that he won’t even consider it unless put under huge pressure from workers. The 82% state shareholding is just a subsidy to the private sector. He won’t want to see the company profits fall and more subsidies being paid out when he wants to keep business on side.”

0n how to fight for occupations and workers’ control we added:

“It’s good that the Alliance has raised the example of the occupations in Argentina. Kirchner’s just been re-elected. He is a left Peronist with official union support not too dissimilar to Labour in NZ. But neither has any interest to take-over companies and run them as workers’ cooperatives. Cullen has said he will not subsidise Air NZ jobs. They HAVE to keep onside with global monopoly capital.

That’s why the solution has to be posed right from the start as a workers’ solution that workers’ can only do INDEPENDENTLY of the bosses’ state. So where to start at Air NZ?

The current Blairite partnership approach goes through the charade of the union officials doing their own audit for two months to see what cuts they can make the workers accept to keep some of their jobs. The EPMU logo is some for all, all for some. Meanwhile workers will be left out of the picture, worrying, or looking for other jobs.

This is the same blackmail that the US unions are using right now to force autoworkers to sacrifice their health insurance in the vain hope they can keep their jobs. As long as the union officials share the same view that companies must be profitable at all costs, the workers are the losers. see http://www.rankandfilers.blogspot.com/

The rank and file engineers need to organise now and take the dispute out of the hands of the EPMU officials. They need to reject the bottom line of profit, and the payment of a dividend to the state that goes straight into the consolidated fund to run the capitalist system. Anyway as an SOE Air NZ is doomed as a national carrier in this global environment and will be gobbled up by Qantas or Singapore sooner or later.

Instead the rank and file should put up a new bottom line – the workers’ need for safe, reliable air transport that can survive the oil shocks (get the oil from Venezuela!) and the race to the bottom of cutthroat (ours!) international airline competition. The engineers would have a say in whether it’s good for the peoples’ airline to buy carbon fibre planes at $170 million a pop.

That’s why Venezuela is a better map than Argentina of the socialist road. The factory occupations there are taking place as part of a society wide revolution where workers are pushing Chavez further and further towards outright expropriation. Oil, paper, gas, steel, and land is being nationalised and a huge fight is going on to turn co-management into real workers’ control. The result is that there is a better chance that when Chavez finally baulks, or if the US invades, the workers will be able to defend and complete their socialist revolution.

The great thing is that Venezuela is not a blueprint but an ongoing experiment, and it exists in the flesh and is not fated in advance to be either a pie in the sky reformist utopia, or a discredited Cuban style Stalinist regime. It is an open book where the workers are doing the reading and writing.

A page or two would go down well at Air NZ right now. A campaign to renationalise Air NZ under workers control could be generalised to extend to Telecom, Toll rail, CHH, BNZ . 

From Class Struggle 64 Nov 05/Jan 06

Written by raved

January 6, 2012 at 7:27 pm

Blackballing Pedophiles

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Recent events involving public naming and attacking of pedophiles and alleged pedophiles show an increasing anxiety and fear amongst the community but what are these fears really about, who benefits from their promotion and are they grounded in fact?

In the last month there have been two incidents involving the subject of pedophilia which have gained national attention in the media.

The first involved a man who had been released from jail after serving a sentence for sexual offences against children. He moved to Blackball on the west coast of the South Island. The name of the town (also famous for previous trade union militancy) proved to be prophetic. The police wrote to the local schools warning that this man might be a threat to local children. News soon got out to the local community and some of the citizens decided on some good old vigilante activity. The media of course played its usual role of shit stirring and helping the hysteria along. The cops seemed to play their usual game as well, calling on citizens to act responsibly whilst not doing a lot to stop any action taken against the man in question. Eventually he decided to cut his losses and flee from the town, rightly fearing for his life.

There use to be a principle (albeit largely fictional) that once a person had served there time they should be allowed to have a chance to get on with their life. But even the pretense of this principle seems to have gone out the window when it comes to certain offences.

Statistics show that sexual offenders have one of the lowest rates of re-offending of people who go to prison. You wouldn’t know that from the way the media and police carry on. If they are to be believed then every sex offender is a walking time bomb ready to grab the nearest child.

When burglars, car thieves and drug dealers are released from prison the media and cops aren’t out there warning the community (nor should they be). But a special case is made for sex offenders.

The other important fact to remember about sex offenders is that most sexual abuse occurs within the family. The stranger offender is relativity rare.

The other incident which has occurred more recently was an anonymous leaflet sent out in the Wellington suburb of Whitby where it was alleged a person living in an IHC home was a sex offender. There was no foundation to this spineless attack and even the cops circulated a letter saying the rumour was untrue. What was interesting was that when the local police commander was interviewed he said that people have to be careful with such leaflets and allegations. We can take it from that the cops think it is OK as long as you have a real sex-offender!

This sort of incident would not have happened ten years ago. Is this happening now because there are so many more sex attacks on children by people? No, the rates of these types of offences have remained mercifully low.

The media were, or course, quick to wring their hands and display a great concern about people taking matters in to their own hands. The irony is that they are part of the whole problem. They are quick to stir the pot when it suits them.

The case of the person in the IHC home illustrates how quick some people are to jump to conclusions and then feel they have the right to make allegations and even go further by distributing their poison.

How have we got to this point in 2005? Surely in these rational times one would have thought that such witch hunt tactics would garner no or little support. But the reality is we do not live in rational times. We live in a time when there is much fear and uncertainty.

The term witch hunt comes from the famous witch trials of Salem in 17th century America. Here innocent people were accused of being witches by people who had their own agendas (land grabbing, jilted lovers etc.) The wonderful play The Crucible by Arthur Miller is both powerful in it’s depiction of the mass hysteria of that time and making the historical parallel to a contemporary witch hunt. Miller’s play was a carefully crafted metaphor for the McCarthy communist witch hunts of the 50s and 60s.

These two witch hunts are just two examples (perhaps the best known) but there are countless other examples of such panic attacks. At the same time McCarthy was hunting for communists there was a huge gay moral panic in Idaho in the United States which resulted from the abduction and rape of two boys. Gay men in that town were rounded up and sent to mental institutions. In his book Sex-crime Panic – A journey to the paranoid heart of the 1950s” Neil Miller paints a picture of a community in the grip of panic and fear.

We could go on and on with examples of such panics and witch hunts. In our own time it is not just pedophiles and alleged pedophiles who are the target of witch hunting. We can’t forget it is election year and so it’s time to have a go at immigrants again. Winston Peters and Rodney Hyde are particularly good at finding a potential terrorist lurking behind every tree or at the very least some overstayer who is going to take the job off a hard working kiwi bloke or blokess.

And it isn’t just Act and New Zealand First who push this poison. National has jumped on the bandwagon and the Labour government fearing a public backlash has joined the heartless brigade.

Who really benefits from these sorts of witch hunts and are the public really just a bunch of pitch fork waving yokels who will be roused to attack their neighbour on the mere suspicion of them being an illegal immigrant or pedophile?

Fortunately there are many people (perhaps the silent majority) who are not sucked into this sort of panic. Not long ago a man was released from prison and ended up working in a library in Christchurch. The media tried to work up a story, but when they interviewed people on the streets, the reaction was “well, he’s done his time and he should be given a chance.” The story died – score resulting – common sense1 – Media sensationalism – Nil!

Even the recent events in Blackball where the media assured us the Whole community seemed to be united against this person was not all black and white. A public meeting called to voice concerns was attended by about 50 people. Blackball is small but not that small.

There are many people like those mentioned above in Christchurch who take the view that people should be treated as humans and given a chance. What stops these people speaking out more often is the fear that people will label them as pedophile sympathizers or worse still pedophiles themselves. This fear is well grounded. In Salem those who tried to stop the witch hunts found themselves labeled as witches themselves, likewise in McCarthyist America if you thought red-baiting was wrong then your politics were suspect.

The real agenda of the new right in pushing hysteria on these issues is to divert people away from the real enemy, the capitalist system. The abuse of children is a product of a system that founds itself on the exploitation of people. It is this system which keeps the bourgeois family alive, where family life is a source of gender oppression and repression of the rights of children. It is capitalism that leads to the abuse of children, be it sexual, physical or emotional. There will be no end to the suffering of children until there is an end to capitalism.

As Marxists we must consistently identify the real enemy and speak out against these witch hunts at every opportunity. We must also strive to point out that the real enemy is the capitalist system which is the real cause of exploitation whether it is against children or adults.

From Class Struggle 61 May-June 2005


Union turf wars

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It is vital that workers, especially in low-paid casualised jobs, are recruited to unions where they have rank and file control and can unite to build a strong labour movement. When union officials conduct turf wars over union members, it is the workers that will lose out. The poaching of one is an injury to all. Workers need to take action against poaching and for unity!

Air NZ: Ground staff turf wars

Both the EPMU (Engineers Union) and SFWU (Service & Food Workers Union) have members on the ground at NZ airports. Negotiators from both unions began talks with Air NZ management in August – September last year (2004).

Rex Jones of the EU stitched up a deal with Air NZ management back in December last year. Part of this deal is that the EU have agreed to work with Air NZ management on splitting the deal into 3 separate agreements; airports, cargo and retail, etc. After Jones’ promises to management, the EU members were offered an agreement which included backpay (or a bonus). This deal excluded members of the SFWU.

The bureaucratic style of negotiation goes on behind the backs of union members. The EPMU negotiation team stitched up a deal without informing members about what conditions they would lose in the deal. Then the EPMU take the offer to the whole membership.

This style takes the power away from union members and plays up the role of union officials as ‘great leaders’. We say ‘All power to the members’. Members must be fully informed of the progress of negotiations throughout negotiations. This means regular meetings of the membership and the negotiation team and members on the negotiation team. We support the right of members to dismiss and replace non performing delegates or officials.

The SFWU were after at least as good a deal as the EPMU, but with no loss of conditions. They were frustrated by Air NZ management’s lack of negotiation. Air NZ would not offer them the same deal as the EPMU. So the SFWU took strike action. During that strike the EU members continued to work! A divided strike was much less effective at impacting on the bosses business.

ERA adjudication

The SFWU failed to get a deal with Air NZ and went to the Employment Relations Authority for adjudication. SFWU continued to try to get as good a deal as the EPMU, but Air NZ implied that the EPMU was more deserving. ANZ told the adjudicator that they gave the EPMU members a “bonus” (as backpay) because the EPMU was more willing to improve efficiency and productivity (for the bosses) and to make changes and split the contract (into business units).

Class Struggle condemns the actions of the EPMU; bureaucratic dealing, settling first and promoting their “brand” of union above other unions. By doing so the EPMU has undermined working class solidarity.

Turf wars at Casino

Another turf war is going on at the Skycity casino where the SFWU succeeded in unionising most of the workforce. Now Unite officials (supposedly a union for the low paid, unorganised and unemployed workers) have moved into actively recruiting at the casino.

Unite officials have poached SFWU members. A Unite leaflet directly compares fees with the SFWU and then provides a form to send to Skycity payroll, for joining Unite and quitting the SFWU. The West Auckland branch of Unite! condemns those Unite officials’ actions.

All unionists must strongly condemn these actions of Unite officials poaching at the Skycity site. We call for the resignation of the official(s) responsible. Unfortunately most union rules do not allow members to dump rotten officials. Workers need to reclaim control over their unions and change the rules to let workers dump rotten officials.

Takeovers

We have heard that the EPMU is having secret talks with other unions, with the aim of amalgamation. This is another way to recruit members through takeovers. We call on those unions in talks to take proposals back to their members, and for the members to vote on which union they wish to join.

Working class answers to turf wars

Ban poaching! Members must regain control of the unions so they can dump rotten union officials who refuse to work for the benefit of the working class as a whole, and elect delegates and officials who are accountable to and recallable by the membership.

This means fighting for democratic, militant unions that are capable of acting independently of the state and its labour law ‘leg-irons’ which are all designed to make unions work within the bosses’ laws.

To do this we recommend workers stay with their union, and put up a real fight for their demands and for working class solutions, within their union. Only after attempts to raise demands within their own union, have got nowhere, should workers consider dumping one union for another.

End turf wars and unite to fight the employers for better wages and conditions. When workers are divided and fighting each other within different unions, this allows the bosses to screw down wages and conditions by playing unions off against each other.

We call for maximum unity among workers:

· MUCAs (Multi-Union Collective Agreements).

· MECAs (Multi-Employer Collectives)

· All union members to vote on agreements.

· All up meetings – all union members meet to discus the progress of negotiations and offers.

· Open the books: show what the union owns and union officials’ salaries.

· Fighting funds that are used to support striking workers.

· Set wages of union staff at the average wage of workers.

· Allow unemployed workers to be members of the union at reduced rates. 

From Class Struggle 60 March-April 2005


Written by raved

January 11, 2010 at 10:59 pm